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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Reader's Diary #1617- Helene Stapinski: Murder in Matera

My wife Debbie read Helene Stapinski's Murder in Matera book before I did and at first was enjoying it to the point of raving about it. You have no idea how much this pleased me.

She is the hardest person in the world for me to successfully recommend a book. As a librarian, it's hard not to take it personally when your reader's advisory skills cannot even pair a book to the person I know the most. To add insult, others— even slight acquaintances— seem to be able to do so with no problems. 

I got her Murder in Matera as she leans towards non-fiction and we're planning a trip to Italy (Matera included). 

But her enjoyment came to a sudden and specific halt as she neared the end of the book. She made note not only of the page but even the sentence that did her in.

Finding that line for myself then became an obsession for me. 

Obsessions, it turns out, could be a secondary theme of Murder in Matera. Stapinski is obsessed with uncovering the truth behind a long rumored murder in her family tree, a murder that ultimately led to her great-great grandmother Vita immigrating to the United States. Stapinski travels to where it all began, Italy's Matera province, and starts digging.

To hear her tell it, this murder has potentially devastated the family tree that followed, leading to many-a crime-ridden branch. Stapinski, a mother, fears that the legacy will continue. 

I wasn't buying this last bit. As anyone who's done any research into their own family tree or has a family that passes down its own stories can tell you, there are bound to be dark and sinister tales. First off, just the law of averages suggests that you'll hit a crime eventually and secondly, the stories that get passed down are often the ones with the juiciest details, often exaggerated for effect, and like a game of telephone, winding up far from what actually happened. I suspected very early on that Stapinski's fear of genetic corruption was a facade; a way to draw in readers (or perhaps her publisher), a hook beyond typical travelogue.

Not that I cared too much. I was enjoying the rich descriptions of Matera and as someone who's researched his own family tree, Stapinski's sleuthing was something I could relate to. It's true, it can become an obsession.

Hopefully by now I've convinced some of you to give the book a shot. Go read it and remember to come back. But stop reading this post now as I have to discuss the infamous sentence that did the book in for my wife and therefore spoilers are unavoidable.

After almost an entire book, Stapinski finally has some answers. Vita was not a murderer after all. However, the man she'd mistakenly believed to be her great-great grandfather, Vita's husband, was  murdered. He goes to prison for his crimes and after being let out, he soon dies (without ever having gone to America himself). Stapinski has found his death certificate 

No cause of death was listed. I wondered if heartbreak really could cause someone to die. Or maybe Grieco killed him. Or maybe he died in a card game. Maybe Vita killed him. [...] I was finally ready to leave the dead in peace. 

Did you spot the offending line? I'll admit, even after my wife told me the page, I still had trouble finding it. It's the flippant way Stapniski throws out the line "Maybe Vita killed him." She has spent the book describing how afraid she was that she and her children may have inherited some sort of criminal gene, followed by a very audible sigh of relief that Vita wasn't a murderer; the murderer was someone she wasn't even related to as it turns out. This whole premise then falls apart when she casually throws out the possibility that Vita may have murdered someone after all and whatever, she's ready to go home.

So yes, Debbie had a good point.

That said, I wasn't buying that whole criminal inheritance bit anyway, so I'm more forgiving it considering I enjoyed a lot of other aspects.


2 comments:

Buried In Print said...

So you have yet to find her the perfect match, but at least you're both still trying! :)

Melanie Kindrachuk said...

RA is so tricky, and I agree, it's harder when you know someone really well because there are so many variables that keep popping up every time you think you have a good suggestion! Seems like you almost had it here ;)